Friday, January 29, 2010

Vendor innovation and the iPad

Steve Remington and I have been working, along with our other colleagues, on a project looking at innovation in the BI software industry. We have been using press releases as a surrogate 'history' of BI firms. We think that they record - along with lots of sales and marketing related information - important events in the development of products. We have been looking at the major vendors, trying to determine if there has been any change in the rate and nature of product innovations since they have been taken over by larger general IT firms. The data is messy and complex and the answer doesn't appear at this stage to be a simple yes or no ... the work continues.

However, we are coming to the conclusion that we haven't seen a lot of really major innovation for the BI community generally - really ground breaking stuff. When you look at the major advances in the technology we use they are either really old (for example, what we now call in-memory OLAP dates back to the late 60s!), or developed elsewhere (the web).

In my shtick on interfaces - the talk I gave in a variety of forms at a number of venues last year - I begin by lamenting that in the 80s (in the 'good old days') the best interfaces were found in EIS tools and in games. Both classes of software really pushed the envelope of what was possible with the limited graphics resources of the computers and PCs available at the time. EIS tools like Commander, Pilot and Holos came with their own GUI system. Macs also featured heavily as a platform at the time because, of course, they have a GUI built in that was easier to develop for than building your own. Then of course Windows came along, and now the web, and BI tools just take advantage of the standard graphics tools built into those underlying platforms. They no longer represent - there are few exceptions, but not many - the leading edge of interface design.

This is a pity I think. Games software has continued to push the envelope, games are still written to take advantage of specialist graphic and interaction technologies and have helped foster the development of new interface techniques (think the Wii).

So, to the innovation of the moment ... the Apple iPad. I like it, I'm wondering why Apple, or somebody, hadn't produced it a few years earlier, but still its a nice device and looks like it will sell well and evolve into a serious category of product. I think it has the potential to be an excellent platform for BI software. Love to see some well design software that allows me to pinch and gesture my way around a multi-dimensional database.

The major games houses have been keen to develop versions for the prototypes they have been given access to, and there are press releases galore from them heralding Apple's product and announcing support for the platform and specific titles and release dates. That's an industry that's willing to take risks and continues to innovate and exploit new technologies. Sadly, so far from the BI software vendors ... I've seen nothing. No doubt there will be, eventually, a few half hearted announcements of the availability of Apps that run on the platform but I doubt there will be enough risk taking or innovation to get me excited ... I guess I can always hope that I'm wrong, but I don't think I will be.